Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Not All the AEF Was Inexperienced

By R.L. Hillman, III 

The U.S. Army's 9th Infantry Regiment would enter the war as one of America's most  experienced and honored formations.  Consistent with its heritage, it fought in France with the 2nd Division in six major victorious battles.  Many of the regiment's senior men—both officer and enlisted—had earlier gained helpful  experience over three intense years at the turn of the century in expeditions far beyond their nation's borders. The regiment  found it itself deployed to Cuba,  the Philippines, China, and back to the Phlippines before returning home.

The 9th was a regular U.S. Army regiment organized on 3 March 1855 at Fort Monroe, VA. It then moved to the northwest coast where it fought a variety of American Indian tribes before and during the Civil War.

Following the Civil War, the 9th was engaged in the Indian Wars, labor disputes, and quiet garrison duty beginning in 1892 when it moved to Madison Barracks outside of Sacketts Harbor, NY. It was indistinguishable from its brother infantry regiments until the Spanish-American War in the "Empire Age." Then, in a short span of three years it became one of the most well known and bloodied regiments in the U.S. Army.

On 1 July 1898, the 9th went up San Juan Hill, Santiago, Cuba, as part of the 1st Division of the Vth Corps. After recovering from the battle casualties and deadly tropical diseases suffered in Cuba, the 9th sailed to the Philippine Islands in March 1899. It went into action against the Filipino Independent Army on Luzon Island.

9th Infantry Guarding the Sacred Gate, Peking

Then history landed on the 9th again when it was ordered to China in June 1900 to become part of the Allied Relief Expedition. The Relief Expedition's objective was to rescue the foreign legations in Peking and Tientsin from the Chinese "Boxer" religious fanatics and the Imperial Chinese Army.

On 13 July 1900, the 9th attacked the old walled city of Tientsin as part of a joint operation with a United States Marine Corps battalion, regular Japanese Army units, and the British Royal Marines. While leading the  regiment, the regimental commander, Colonel Emerson H. Liscum, a battle-scarred Civil War, Indian War, and Spanish-American War veteran, was mortally struck by a Chinese sniper's Mauser round. As he lay dying in a muddy ditch, Liscum issued his final order:

"Keep at them, men! Keep up the fire!" 

"Keep up the fire" is still the motto of the 9th Infantry. 

All to no avail; much of the regiment was pinned down in the canals outside the walled city until rescued that night by one of its battalions. That day the regiment suffered over 90 casualties including the fallen heroic leader Colonel Liscum. The regiment then tended to its wounded, recovered its strength from the brutal summer drought/heat, and joined with the rest of the Allied Relief forces as they advanced to Peking, fighting and winning two skirmishes at Pei-tsang, which fell on 5 August 1900 and at Yang-tsun on 6 August. The 9th was part of the American forces that fought their way into the walled Imperial City in Peking on 14 August. It was this Chinese adventure that earned the regiment its nickname, the "Manchus.” The Chinese service period is represented on its regimental crest with the imperial Chinese dragon centered in the crest. 

9th Infantry During the Philippines Deployment 

The regiment remained in Peking and Tientsin as part of the occupation forces until May 1901, when it sailed back to the Philippines to continue operations against the Filipino insurrectos. Then history struck the 9th again. On Sunday 28 September 1901, Filipino insurrectos ambushed "C" Company in the village of Balangiga, Samar Island. The treacherous Filipinos inflicted over 70 casualties on the Americans including the company commander, the executive officer, and the company surgeon. The regiment finally left the Philippines in 1902, when it returned to Madison Barracks in New York state. 

Then, in 1907, the regiment was transferred to Fort Sam Houston, TX, where it was assigned routine garrison duty. The 9th did not participate in the Mexico Punitive Expedition. It remained stationed at Fort Sam Houston until 1917, when it was ordered to east coast garrisons, primarily Camp Syracuse, NY, to prepare for deployment to France to join the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) as part of the Allied forces in the war against the Imperial German Army. 

1917: The 9th Arrives on the East Coast Prior to
Embarkation for France

Unfortunately, the level of experience among the senior cadre did not negate German firepower.  In its six major operations in France, the 9th suffered 4,571 killed, wounded, and captured, over 100 percent of its manning level. Their story, however, tells much about how the small "constabulary" U.S. Army kept busy before the multi-million-man AEF was needed.

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